TOP’s Exclusion – The Canary in the Coal Mine

This fiasco is actually about democracy and MMP itself. With this election increasingly threatening to leave us with a two-party duopoly, we need to defend against anything that has the potential to harm the pluralism that is essential for a vibrant democracy.



So The Opportunities Party is officially not invited to the political leaders debate because of a long-standing TVNZ rule to block parties currently polling under 3%.

TVNZ will come to regret this decision.

There will be two major reactions to this. The first is “it’s the rules mate…end of story.” Look no further than Mike Hosking’s recent opinion piece in The Herald for a clear example.

The other reaction is “well, we get those are the rules, but are the rules fair?”

That is a much more interesting response, because it also leads to a question. Why are we content to abide by TVNZ’s rules? And what is it that makes so many of us instinctively rush to defend them?

Firstly, let’s not forget that TVNZ is supposed to be a publicly owned enterprise. In reality it is anything but – it’s more of a Frankenstein, consisting of some good output, cobbled together with flashy ‘info-tainment’ and a celebrity-host culture that is a far cry from what public interest journalism is all about. One of TOP’s policies, Democracy Reset, proposes that it’s become so unhelpful to democracy that we really should sell it, and use the proceeds to fund journalism that recommits to being in the public interest.

TVNZ’s confused model is also exactly what creates arrogant and opinionated characters like Hosking. We should never forget that he is not a journalist – his societal function is to protect the status quo and deride progressivism or change. TVNZ – that public service we pay for – enables him, and thus enables and supports his function.

From this it is not such a difficult logical leap to see that TVNZ’s rules are just another, more formalised way to protect the status quo.

Doesn’t it seem strange that The Maori Party, Mana and ACT are represented at the debate despite them all polling lower than The Opportunities Party? In fact the latest NewsHub poll has TOP polling higher than all of them put together. And this is notwithstanding the substantial margin of error that exists when below 5%.

TVNZ justifies this with its other rule – that incumbent parties automatically get a spot. You can argue the merits of this as an isolated rule, but what you can’t argue is that these two rules together essentially protect incumbents and disadvantage new parties.

And who actually benefits from that? Because it is not the New Zealand public.

Red, Blue, Nothing New

The problem here is not TOP, it’s not Gareth, it’s not any party, and it’s not just people who are upset because the rules disadvantage them. The problem here is the rules themselves.

TOP will continue to campaign as it has done. Its internal polling paints a far more favourable position than is currently reported. It’s always a potentially fraught exercise, but I bet that they will easily make 5%. We are going through a period in society where the ‘experts’ have proven themselves to be spectacularly wrong on many, many occasions. I think they are wrong again.

That also reinforces why, as a thinking, critical public, we need to be smarter than simply parroting Hosking’s submissive and jingoistic stance of “it’s the rules mate” – that is precisely what he and TVNZ want us to do. Which is precisely why we shouldn’t do it.

This fiasco is actually about democracy and MMP itself. With this election increasingly threatening to leave us with a two-party duopoly, we need to defend against anything that has the potential to harm the pluralism that is necessary for a vibrant democracy.

TVNZ is doing just that. What’s even worse is that we are paying them to do it.

Time to wake up New Zealand.



Author: Todd

Hello, thanks for reading. My name is Todd and I'm a 30 year old NZ Maori trainee doctor in Psychiatry. I have a passion for Mental Health, particularly in low-resource settings, and the existential and humanist schools are what provide me with the organising principles to help understand my patients - their hopes, their fears, their dreams and the inner tyrannies under which they often suffer. I have a background in advocating for evidence-based policy solutions and have always maintained an active interest in NZ and international politics - in particular the dynamics between psychology, politics and dominant power systems. Central to my belief is the sanctity and inherent mana of all people and the need be eternally wary of ideologies that reduce them to simple nodes within enormous and fundamentally dehumanising systems. I feel that the history of modern politics and individual and social psychology is the constant tension of this dialectic. We are "human, all too human" and the affirmation of our essential humanness is the common thread in my work. When I was once overwhelmed by the terrible things people can do to one another, someone important to me said, "don't scream at the darkness, light a candle." I hope these pieces are each a candle - all part of the many I hope to light on this wonderful journey. Many thanks and happy reading Todd

5 thoughts on “TOP’s Exclusion – The Canary in the Coal Mine”

  1. I can’t help thinking that the party-based system of government is not in the best interest of the country. Major political parties act to gain a majority, and the policies and “election promises” are designed to achieve this. Maybe we should look at “NZ Inc.”, with a board of directors elected in a similar fashion to the current election – just not along party lines. Re-election would be performance based, not along party lines. A board of governors, similar to an upper house, would approve any law changes. It would possibly be more democratic than anything we have had to date. Such a change would require a lot of work and would require that a “founding charter”, effectively a constitution, be drawn up.


  2. This is an excellent opinion piece. I agree that NZ democracy is at risk with the current party duopoly. The pretence of a ‘coalition’ is a farce. NZ does not have proportional representation – we still have FPP in disguise. It is sad that TVNZ has acted in such an undemocratic way. It supports Gareth’s contention that TVNZ should be privatised. It is not acting in the public interest yet it is tax payer funded. The irony is that their high handed manner of dealing to TOP may be a blessing in disguise for TOP. I hope Peters rises to the bait and debates Morgan. That would be vintage TV viewing. Of course Morgan would tear him to shreds on any economic argument and that is why the wily old fox will decline the invitation. Peters is the real threat to NZ democracy. He has little to offer yet he will end up deciding the new government. This is a watershed moment in NZ political history. It is essential that Morgan becomes an MP and like the writer I believe he will easily get 5%. The Colmar Brunton polls canvas landline voters. How many TOP voters have a landline? We are witnessing the Bernie Saunders phenomena here. On election night the pundits will be stunned by TOPs vote and they will shake their heads in disbelief. The answer will be clear. The unpolled voters have spoken.


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